If you’re a small business and you are not ready for a major technology investment, you can still benefit from AI solutions using various budget-friendly solutions.
Artificial intelligence (AI) has embedded itself in almost every industry–from retail to healthcare, human resources, financial services, transportation, energy, telecommunications, media, manufacturing, marketing, education, and even governance.
AI technologies have enabled virtual machines to automatically learn by picking up data patterns and using these to generate recommendations or address business concerns. These capabilities have made AI an essential investment for businesses looking to increase their productivity, efficiency, and profit.
How AI Technologies Propel Business Growth
In their Harvard Business Review article, Thomas Davenport and Rajeev Ronanki pointed out three enterprise needs where AI can play a key role: automating processes, analyzing data to generate insights, and engaging with clients and employees.
Process automation uses robotic process automation (RPA) technologies to accomplish administrative and financial tasks, including “reading” legal documents and updating client records.
AI, particularly machine learning (ML), has enabled businesses to analyze massive data and use these to generate business insights. For instance, these technologies have empowered companies to predict client purchases, improve actuarial modeling, and identify fraud in credit and insurance claims.
AI technologies, especially through natural language processing (NLP) chatbots, ML, and intelligent agents can facilitate client and staff engagements. These can be used for providing 24/7 customer support and responding to human resources queries, as well as personalizing product suggestions and health treatment recommendations.
The deployment of AI technologies has been generating multiple benefits for companies, enabling managers and their teams to:
make more informed decisions through AI-based analytics
improve productivity and efficiency through automation
increase eCommerce conversion rates through better analytics and personalized product suggestions
leverage quantitative usability tests and other data to refine or further customize the user experience
enhance UX by including voice search, consequently beefing up their SEO proposals or strategies
boost marketing results through automated digital ad personalization and lead scoring; and
strengthen data security.
As businesses of all sizes are deploying AI solutions, you may be wondering if this is the right time for your company to jump on the bandwagon.
But before you do, ask yourself if your company possesses the following:
Sufficient data and digital infrastructure. To be able to generate useful business insights, AI technologies require massive amounts of data. If your company does not have sufficient updated information nor an efficient data collection strategy, AI algorithms cannot help propel your growth.
A specific business problem that AI can help solve. Before looking to AI tech for solutions, you need to first define the business issues you need to address. For example, you may want to improve employee productivity by automating repetitive tasks so they can focus on more critical assignments. Or you may want to analyze how customers engage with your services so you can improve customer experience and increase retention rates.
An innovation-driven culture. Your business needs to be open to innovations and value the use of data for informing strategic business decisions. Equally important, you must consider how your company will measure AI technology’s effectiveness and its return on investment (ROI).
Artificial Intelligence Growth Statistics for 2020
There’s probably no industry that cannot benefit from AI technologies. As expected, more companies are investing in AI solutions, and here are a few statistics to show its growth.
According to Garner’s CIO Survey, the number of businesses leveraging AI soared 270%, jumping from 10% four years ago to 37% in 2019.
A 2018 global survey estimated that AI would contribute 14.5% to North America’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030.
The 2016-2025 cumulative revenue of AI for vehicular object detection is estimated at $9 billion, followed by image recognition ($7.6 billion), patient data processing ($7.3 billion), and trading strategy ($6.4 billion).
According to Intersect360’s 2018 report, infrastructure investments for training ML models grew by more than 50% in the past two years.
The International Data Corporation (IDC) estimates that the global data sphere will jump from 33 zettabytes in 2018 to 175 zettabytes by 2025.
The global AI software market is expected to reach USD22.6 billion in 2020.
In PwC’s 2020 AI Predictions survey, 46% of the respondents said they have upskilling and continual learning initiatives, which include AI.
Despite the growth in AI use, only a few companies are planning an enterprise-wide AI deployment. According to PwC’s 2020 AI predictions report, only 4% of executives said they would do so in 2020, significantly lower than last year’s 20%. This reduction is primarily driven by the need to zero in on fundamentals before considering a major AI roll-out.
Still, many companies continue to use or explore AI technologies’ potential. In fact, the survey revealed that 42% are investigating its uses, 23% are piloting within discrete areas, 13% are eyeing AI deployment in several areas, and 18% have already implemented AI in multiple areas.
2020 AI Pricing Estimates
Several factors affect the cost of AI technologies, such as the type of AI your business needs. For instance, a custom-built chatbot may cost you at least $6,000, while a custom-built data analysis system may require an investment of at least $35,000.
Another pricing consideration is the project type, whether it’s pre-built or customized. Pre-built chatbots require lower investments, with some offering free applications, and paid plans can cost you $40,000 annually. Developing and rolling out custom AI tech, however, commands a higher price tag of $6,000 to $300,000.
If you’re exploring developing AI/ML-based systems, you can break down the estimated expenditures per project stage.
Discovery and analysis phase. This stage covers the feasibility study, project goal setting, and research on your company’s processes, data, and metrics. Some service providers can do this for free.
Prototype implementation and evaluation. Prototypes are developed to test a system’s feasibility in a fast and time-efficient way. This phase allows businesses to identify major issues before fully implementing a system. This phase may cost $5,000-$25,000.
Minimum viable product (MVP). An MVP is a real but simplified version of the final product which clients can use. Through MVPs, companies can modify systems at a lower cost. Equally important, they can determine if their target technologies can generate value or meet specific business objectives. This stage typically costs companies $35,000-$100,000.
Product release. In this final stage, the AI solution, with its full features and functions, is developed and released to the market. Product release expenses are usually discussed during earlier project phases.
If you’re a small business owner or your company is not ready for a major technology investment, you can still benefit from AI solutions using various budget-friendly solutions.
5 Affordable AI Technologies That Can Help Grow Your Business
1.) ManyChat for Facebook Messenger Chatbots
If you’re looking to improve client experience with self-service support, and pivot your customer service team toward solving more complex issues, consider deploying pre-built or custom chatbots.
If you want to tap Facebook Messenger for marketing, ManyChat’s free plan allows you to have unlimited subscribers and broadcasts. Meanwhile, their Pro account, which costs $10 per month, enables you to collect subscriber data, link your chatbot to Facebook ads, and include buy buttons. You can even integrate your ManyChat bot with your other business tools, such as your CRM, email marketing, Shopify, and payment systems.
2.) Flow XO for Multichannel Chatbots
Another chatbot, Flow XO, can help you collect subscriber information, quickly respond to simple queries, accept payments, and pre-filter your leads without coding. Moreover, it can seamlessly transfer customer conversations from the chatbot to a human agent during live chat support. Flow XO can also be integrated with over 100 platforms, including email marketing tools, accounting packages, social media, CRM, project management, payment processing apps, and eCommerce plugins.
Businesses can start with Flow XO’s free plan, which allows up to 500 interactions, before moving to a standard plan. Priced at $19 per month, the standard plan covers 5,000 interactions and 15 bots or active flows. Companies can also avail of add-ons when they need more bots or interactions.
3.) Microsoft Power Automate to Streamline Processes
Microsoft Power Automate enables enterprises to automate repetitive tasks and build multistep workflows across hundreds of applications, even without coding knowledge.
Businesses can choose between a per-user or a per-flow license. The most affordable plan costs $15 a month and allows one user to create unlimited flows. At a slightly higher monthly fee of $40, an individual user can also automate legacy applications via RPA and AI.
Meanwhile, companies who prefer to have unlimited users can avail of Power Automate’s per-flow plan. The lowest monthly plan ($500) already includes five flows. More flows can be added at $100/flow/month.
4.) Zia, Zoho’s Digital Assistant
If you’re a Zoho customer, you can use Zia to create chatbots to engage with your web visitors and app users, pull out answers from your knowledge base, and give your buyers personalized recommendations. It can generate reports and charts, help improve your writing and augment data on your leads.
Zoho clients do not need to pay additional fees to be able to use Zia. However, some Zia abilities can only be used by enterprise-level clients.
Zoho’s pricing varies per product. For example, their CRM’s most affordable plan (if billed yearly) is at $12/user/month, while Enterprise and Ultimate plans are priced at $35 and $100, respectively.
5.) Intuit’s Quickbooks to Keep Track of Company Finances
This accounting software platform utilizes AI for several functions, such as scanning receipts to get key data and enter these into Quickbooks and forecasting daily cash flow requirements.
Self-employed individuals can use Quickbooks for $1/month for 12 months to track income and expenses, invoice and accept payments, estimate taxes, and run basic reports.
Meanwhile, Quickbooks plans for small businesses start at $8/month, which already includes income and expense tracking, receipt capture, running reports such as profit and loss, and 1099 contractor management. Companies who need more users and additional features such as inventory and project profitability tracking and employee time tracking can opt for a Plus plan ($21/month) or an Advanced plan ($45/month).
Leveraging AI Benefits while Managing Risks
AI tools have undoubtedly changed industries, and everyone–companies and customers alike–is reaping its benefits. This is especially true now that AI prices are within reach of small and medium-sized businesses.
But AI’s affordability seems to come at a price. Experts are voicing out concerns that these technologies can be used to fuel malicious activities and endanger digital and physical security.
As such, the PwC has named responsible AI and proactively addressing risks as one of five AI priorities for 2020. Investments in leveraging AI must be accompanied by strategies to safeguard company and client data and resolve risks on models, outputs, and reports.
As you explore AI uses for your business, be sure to discuss security risks with your team and service providers as well. Doing so allows you to fully embrace AI’s benefits and be ready for its challenges.